A spell of Kindergarten

2009 November 9
by Evan Lenz

Something recently reminded me of when we sent our oldest son to Kindergarten for two weeks about four years ago, when he was five. We had our third child on the way, and although we had planned to homeschool, we thought it might be worth trying. Although sending him off on a bus every morning sounded scary, whatever we did, we didn’t want to base our decision on fear. In any case, we decided to give it a real shot.

I was proud of how he handled his own fears. We had talked often of what courage means: being afraid, and doing it anyway. Guided by that definition, he courageously boarded the bus despite his qualms about doing so.

In the end, we decided to pull him out, partly because he was experiencing such stress over it. He would say that he liked it (perhaps trying to please us), but he just wasn’t ready. Circumstances during the second week of school, including dog behavior issues and me being out of the country, combined to make for one big ball of stress. When I returned home, my wife and I had a big talk about it, and decided rather effortlessly to respond to what our son was telling us, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. We decided to homeschool, and indeed to try out this thing called “unschooling” that we had been reading about.

But one experience that first week of school stands out in my memory. My son had forgotten to bring his homework to school. So I drove to school and brought it to his classroom. I peeked inside and saw the kids standing in a group, singing a children’s song, being led by the teacher. My son didn’t see me at first, but then he looked up, smiled, and waved.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had. I felt both attracted and repelled. It was so cute to see him willingly be led by the teacher in this song. He was cheerfully going right along with it. Even as I remember it now, I get a sort of sick nostalgic feeling. Despite the cuteness of it, I also felt that something was being destroyed inside him, or something of his personality was being undermined. The feeling I had is similar to the sick feeling I had on a couple of occasions as a child when my mom or someone else gave me a gift that I hated. I felt a mixture of gratitude and anger and guilt for feeling angry. Yuck, it really was a sick, sappy, weepy feeling.

That feeling played some role in our decision, but, by itself, it probably wouldn’t have caused me to pull him out after only two weeks. We’ve taken a very different path in our educational choices, and I have no doubt there are pros and cons to each decision we’ve made. But I do admit to taking some comfort in the fact that my son was as sensitive as he was to respond to Kindergarten in the way that he did, and that circumstances at the time propelled us so easily into choosing a different path.

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